When Ken Rensink was 19 years old, he enlisted in the US Army Reserves and completed training.
The day after he returned home, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car and was in an accident that almost took his life.
Now, almost 30 years later, he’s teaching special education to 11th and 12th graders in Williams, California.
Ken came to StoryCorps with his friend Laurel Hill-Ward to talk about how surviving this accident has influenced his teaching.
Click here for the transcript.
Laurel Hill-Ward (LHW): Do you think because of your perseverance and subsequent success, sometimes you're tougher on your students than some high school special ed teachers?
KR: I think so, yes, but by the time they get to me in high school many of these kids, they've been told for so many years that they're failures. I am trying to help create folks who will not get rolled by life, but will roll over life. Or in my case roll through life.
I had a really difficult student one time. I was working him hard, he was a senior, and it was getting close to graduation. And one morning before school, I passed him in the hallway, and I could smell alcohol on his breath.
I'm supposed to turn students in, however, I know if I do that this kid's going to be suspended. I knew where he was academically, and this could very well be the straw that breaks his academic camel's back.
And I thought, Well, school doesn't start till 8 o'clock, and this is a little before 8. So I said, "Look, if you stay here on campus, I or another teacher are going to have to turn you in. Go home. And don't ever do it again."
The years rolled on and just, uh, maybe two years ago, I was out in front of the school and a big old white truck pulls up. And he comes up to me and shakes my hand, and I said, "I'm sure glad I didn't turn you in." He said, "I never did thank you for that did I Mr. R?" I said, "Actually, you did." And he looked at me funny and he goes, "How do you mean?" I said, "You're driving a big white truck, you got a job, you did pay me back."
LHW: You are truly one of the best special ed teachers I have ever known, Ken.
KR: Well, I should have died at age 19. So, everyday is precious. Use them well.